Endless Lawns is an example of excellent execution of a poor plan. The problems with the production cannot be attributed to those who put together this incarnation of the play (its world premiere); the acting, set design, lighting and pacing all serve to pull an audience along effectively. The glaring problems with Endless Lawns lie in its script.
The story places Torch and Flo – two adult daughters of a respected but debaucherous actor father – who grew up rich but now live paycheck-to-paycheck after being denied any of their father’s fortune after his passing. He opted to financially fortify his young mistress instead – their primary point of contention with him (Flo also mentions getting scolded for smoking weed that one time).
Torch, the more reasonable sister, becomes engaged to Ray, her manager at K-Mart. But this is complicated by the return of Graham (Mark D. Staley), a WASPy former lover of Torch’s – and the father of her son who was given up for adoption decades ago. Flo, the loud, bitter and generally self-obsessed sister serves little in the way of narrative function, but luckily Cary Anne Spear is able to pull consistent audience laughs as an otherwise despicable character.
The structure of Endless Lawns makes Torch the nominal protagonist, but she is not the main character here. The strongest force in this show is the dead actor father of the sisters, or “Daddy,” as they call him incessantly. (There’s a chance the play uses the word more than any other in English-language history.) Daddy is the reason Ray feels simple and inadequate. Daddy is the lure which calls Graham back to his Connecticut hometown – the once-wealthy wanderer has pipe dreams of recovering the sisters’ fortune. And Daddy is the implicit reason Torch is an alcoholic and Flo is a failed actress; he’s also the very explicit reason neither has any money (anymore). The unending importance of Daddy to his daughters is especially troubling – there’s something like a familial male gaze lording over every move Endless Lawn’s female characters make.
his obsession with Daddy not only renders the agency of the sisters nonexistent, it makes all of the living characters largely inconsequential in their actions. Case in point is Ray – the only proletarian voice in a play that seems to be at least ostensibly interested in satirizing wealth and class – whose lines are few and futile. This is difficult to watch, because McCune embodies Ray with a relatable lowliness reminiscent of Matthew Maher in Annie Baker’s Pulitzer-winning The Flick or Paul Giamatti in just about everything.
This is not to say that the rest of the acting is not strong. It is. Gregory Lehane’s directing can’t be faulted, either: the movement of the production is solid. If you’re looking to attend a well-assembled show founded upon a reliably comfortable formula, Endless Lawns won’t disappoint you. But when it comes to theater as message, the play functions most effectively as an argument for an inheritance tax of one-hundred percent (so as prevent future characters as entitled and loathsome as these from being presented as familiar and interesting people).
Special thanks to the Pittsburgh Playhouse for complimentary press tickets. Photo credits Jeff Swensen. Endless Lawns runs through April 12, click here for tickets and more information.